Located at the edge of Lake Wakatipu and at the base of the magnificent Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s most fascinating lake towns. One of the main stops on New Zealand’s tourist trail, Queenstown is a great base for exploring the South Island. Dubbed the “adventure capital of New Zealand,” Queenstown offers a wide range of activities from hiking to skydiving. Fear not if you are not an adrenaline-junkie or not that much of an outdoors person, Queenstown has something in store for everyone!
With Queenstown’s incredible array of fun activities, great food and stunning alpine views, you must be wondering, where do I begin? Don’t worry, we’ve collated a list of some of the awesome things to do in Queenstown.
Admire the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu
Queenstown offers incredible alpine scenery. The Remarkables mountain range is the showstopper in this area and can be viewed from various parts of Queenstown. Whether you arrive by air or drive by car, the majestic Remarkables mountain range is one of the first things that will draw your attention. Another iconic attraction in Queenstown is Lake Wakatipu, a beautiful blue lake shaped like a lightning bolt. The easiest place to see the Remarkable and Lake Wakatipu is from the short Queenstown Gardens Track (20 minutes or so) but you’ll see them from many other hikes and viewpoints around Queenstown.
Ride the Skyline Queenstown Gondola and Explore Bob’s Peak
Standing at 450 metres above Queenstown, Bob’s Peak is one of the best spots to appreciate Queenstown’s beauty from above. Bob’s Peak can be easily reached on the Skyline Queenstown Gondola. The views on the way up and expansive views at the top are well worth every penny. The Skyline Queenstown Gondola ride costs NZD$44 for adults and NZD$26 for a child from 5 to 14 years old. There is no public vehicle access to this area but you can also reach Bob’s Peak from hiking the Tiki Trail which takes about an hour (and is straight uphill).
At the Skyline Queenstown Gondola complex, you’ll be spoiled with stunning panoramic views of Queenstown. There is also a café / bar and restaurant should you choose to spend a bit of time in this area. One of my favourite stops here is the Jelly Belly Store! Keep a look out for the awesome jellybean art displays here too.
The first time I visited Queenstown, we only had a day and chose to spend most of our afternoon at the Skyline Queenstown Gondola Complex at Bob’s Peak. READ MORE: Skyline Gondola: The Best Way to See Queenstown in a Day
Once you get up to the Bob’s Peak, there are plenty of activities that await including cycling tracks and hiking trails. You can also try the Skyline Queenstown Luge, a gravity-fueled ride like a go cart. During our second visit up Bob’s Peak, we did a few more things including the hike to Ben Lomond and went on several rides at the Skyline Queenstown Luge. It was loads of fun!
Wander around Queenstown’s Centre
Being a resort town, Queenstown’s centre is filled with lots of shops, galleries, bars and restaurants. While it’s easy to just stick to the usual shop, eat and repeat routine with Queenstown’s many retail outlets there are many great spots within walking distance from the centre of town to appreciate the natural landscape in Queenstown. These cool spots are mostly located along the perimeter of Lake Wakatipu.
The Marine Parade and Queenstown Bay beach is a great spot to enjoy some lunch or embrace the sights and sounds of Queenstown. Near this area, you’ll also find some great food places, boutique shops and art galleries. It’s a cool place to unwind after a big day of exploring or simply people watch!
Steamer’s Wharf, also located at the waterfront offers great lakeside restaurants and a variety of options for drinking and entertainment. This is also the place to organise water activities in Queenstown including kayaking along the lake or cruise along the Lake Wakatipu aboard the TSS Earnslaw Steamship, an iconic century-old coal fired steamship. The 90-minute TSS Earnslaw Steamship cruise costs NZD$ 70.
Lake Esplanade, located further towards Glenorchy is a great stop to view the mighty peaks of The Remarkables, Cecil Peak and Double Cone.
Hike in Queenstown
Queenstown has many trails, from short scenic walks to breathtaking day hikes. This is one of the reasons we keep coming back to this area.
One of the easiest walks near town is the Queenstown Gardens. Located near the Marine Parade, it’s an awesome spot to see Lake Wakatipu and enjoy views of the Remarkables. If you are travelling with kids, this is a great family friendly activity. Plus, there is also a playground near these gardens.
The Ben Lomond Track, one of the best hikes in New Zealand, offers astounding panoramic views of Queenstown. We cannot recommend this enough – the views are spectacular especially in spring! The Ben Lomond Track begins at Skyline Access Road or the Tiki Trail. Do note that it’s a full day hike with 1,438 m elevation gain so it can be quite challenging. Make sure to check the conditions before you go. It takes about 3-4 hrs return to Ben Lomond Saddle, 6-8 hrs return to Ben Lomond Summit.
Check out some of the other great hikes in Queenstown in this post from our New Zealand South Island blog. READ MORE: 10 of the Best Hikes in Queenstown Hikes
Visit Lake Hayes
Another beautiful lake, only 25 minutes from Queenstown’s centre is Lake Hayes. We highly recommend stopping here view the mountain reflections during a still day if you are driving towards Arrowtown or Wanaka. Should you choose to stay longer, there is a loop track of the lake.
Get Close to Nature and Wildlife
Kea, a large parrot found in the alpine regions of New Zealand is one of the fascinating creatures you may encounter when you hike one of the alpine hikes in Queenstown. At Queenstown beach, you’ll be greeted by blue ducks and Queenstown Gardens, you’ll likely see a variety of native birds.
Another worthwhile activity to consider is a visit to the Kiwi Birdlife Park to native New Zealand wildlife such as tuataras (reptiles which have been around since the age of the dinosaurs) and kiwis.
If you’re looking to see some seals and possibly dolphins close to Queenstown, going on a Milford Sound cruise is a great way to do it. Read more about it below.
Enjoy an Adrenaline-Pumping Adventure
Known as the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown is a great place for people who like to live life on the edge! It’s also a cool place to tick items off your bucket list. There are plenty of activities here that will blow your mind including the iconic bungee jump, white water rafting, jet boating, semi-submersible shark ride, canyon swing, paragliding and skydiving.
Go on a Scenic Flight over Queenstown or Beyond
If you’re looking to travel in style, you can go on a Scenic Flight to see Queenstown from above. There are also some options to fly to various peaks around Queenstown and enjoy a snow landing, and extensive flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound or Queenstown to Mount Cook. The scenic flights in Queenstown starts from NZD$ 195 per person.
If you arrive or leave Queenstown by air, you’ll be spoiled with stunning views over Queenstown. Make sure to request for a window seat!
Enjoy an Adventure of a Different Kind – a Food Adventure!
There is a reason for the long queues. When in Queenstown, make sure to try the world famous Fergburger, the best burger in New Zealand. We’ve tried many burgers in New Zealand during our travels and we can attest that Ferburger (only found in Queenstown) is the best. Jon wouldn’t normally queue for food (have you seen the long queues at Fergburger?) but for Fergbuger, we always make the exception. Our favourite burger varieties include Mr Big Stuff (¾lb of Prime New Zealand beef with cheddar cheese, streaky bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion aioli and bbq sauce) and the Chief Wiggum (slow roasted pork belly, lettuce, tomato, red onion, hash brown, with aioli and apricot seeded mustard). They are huge burgers (I can only eat half!) and so delicious – so they are very good value. Burger prices start at NZD$12.50.
If you are looking for other food options, Queenstown has a variety of food options available from a variety of Asian restaurants, European, Latin American, American and African. Depending on your budget, you’ll find plenty of options right in town. Some of the notable ones we’ve tried include pizzas at Cow’s Restaurant and hawker rolls at Hawker and Roll.
Leave some room for dessert! If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll enjoy the variety of dessert options in Queenstown. There are a few gelato shops in town including Mrs Ferg but I personally love the desserts and gelato at Patagonia Chocolates. They are so good and their café is located right next to the waterfront. If milkshakes excite you as much as us, Cookie Time’s Cookie Muncher Cookie Bar has the most impressive milk shakes in town. They also have freshly baked cookies!
With so many tourists and backpackers, a small town like Queenstown gets pretty busy at night. It’s also popular for stag and hen’s nights among locals with many bars offering drink specials for cheap jaggerbombs and pints of beer. There are also two ice bars in town (Minus 5 Ice Bar and Below Zero Ice Bar).
If you’re a wine lover or curious about the wine produced in the region, you can join a wine tour or drive yourself for some wine tasting. One of the most popular vineyards is Gibbston Valley, known for its award-winning Central Otago pinot noir. It is also next to a few other vineyards.
If you have more time, check out other awesome wineries in the Central Otago region. I personally love the riesling from Bannockburn – check out Mount Difficulty and Felton Road. Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka is another great one, I really liked their gewürztraminer when I did a tasting there. The vineyard also has awesome panoramic views of Lake Wanaka.
Shopping in Queenstown
Considering its size, Queenstown has a lot of major retail outlets in its centre. It offers a great selection of clothes, shoes, sports accessories, jewellery and art. On weekends, there is an artisan market at the marine parade with lots of different stalls selling some locally made crafts.
Unwind at Hot Pools
Growing in popularity among tourists, the Onsen Hot Pools located at the bottom of Coronet Peak Ski Field offers a great place to relax with stunning views of Shotover River. The Onsen Hot Pools price starts at NZD$ 80 per person.
An alternative to the onsen hot pools, if you’re travelling with kids, is a visit to Alpine Aqualand, which has a 25m lap pool, leisure pool, lazy river, two hydro slides, a toddlers’ area and adult hot pool. Entrance Fee at Alpine Aqualand is NZD$ 4.50 for toddlers and NZD$ 6 for adults. Note: Alpine Aqualand is temporarily closed until 30 March 2020.
Go Skiing or Snowboarding
Whether winter sports is your thing or it’s your first time to hit the slopes, Queenstown has two major ski fields Coronet Peak and The Remarkables which cater to winter sport enthusiasts. They have a variety of slopes for all levels and offer lesson for those who may want to try skiing or snowboarding for the first time.
The drive to The Remarkables Ski Field has expansive views of Queenstown – even if you’re not out to ski, the drive to the top is highly recommended!
Day Trips from Queenstown
Apart from being a great destination of its own, Queenstown is the perfect base for exploring the South Island. Here are some nearby places we recommend for a day trip:
Only 25 minutes’ drive from Queenstown, the historic Arrowtown is a quaint little town with beautiful old buildings turned into shops and cafes. You can learn about the Otago Gold rush days here and visit the historic Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. Arrowton really comes to its full glory in autumn where you can enjoy wonderful seasonal colours.
If you are not driving, you may also reach Arrowtown by bus. Check out the Queenstown bus route and timetable here.
Another awesome lake town in Central Otago, Wanaka is a popular destination featuring hikes like Roys Peak. If you are only after some sightseeing, you can check out Lake Wanaka (and the Wanaka Tree), Wanaka Lavender Farm, Puzzling World and Glendhu Bay.
On your road trip from Queenstown to Wanaka, you will likely have to go via Crown Range road, one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads. You’ll be spoiled with enchanting mountain views along this road, make sure to stop at the designated viewpoints for some great photo opportunities.
Mount Aspiring National Park.
If you have a bit more time, you an also consider doing a short drive to Lake Hawea or extend your road trip farther and drive towards Haast to visit some awesome attractions along the way including the Blue Pools, Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek Falls and Roaring Billy Falls. These attractions are all part of the enchanting Mount Aspiring National Park.
If you’re looking for another great area for short walks, Mount Aspiring National Park is a great place to spend a full day. We highly recommend the hike to see Rob Roy Glacier. Note that the road to Rob Roy Glacier is on the other side of Lake Wanaka so you will have to choose either doing this hike or the drive towards Haast (most of the track is currently closed due to slips).
One of the best road trips that you can easily do from Queenstown is the drive to Glenorchy. You’ll be rewarded with magnificent alpine and lake views. Glenorchy is also a great place on its own, where you can do some short walks. The Glenorchy Walkway is a good short one!
If you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings movie franchise, you’ll be delighted to see some of the film locations in this area including Isengard (Dart Valley), Lothlorien forest (Paradise Forest), and Ithilien (Twelve Mile Delta).
Fiordland National Park: Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound
Fiordland National Park is one New Zealand’s most captivating areas. The natural beauty of this part of New Zealand will surely leave you in awe. There are plenty of activities to do in this area including some very good short to multi-day hikes so we highly recommend spending a few days here if you are doing a big South Island road trip.
If you are driving from Queenstown, you’ll still see a lot of the highlights of this area in a day. There are two easily accessible fiords in this area. You can choose to either do Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound (which starts from Manapouri). We have done both and each place has their unique charm.
Milford Sound is like a classic beauty – one that will continue to enchant you with every visit. Milford Sound is one of our favourite areas in New Zealand. We’ve been here several times and always find more reasons to love this area! There are heaps to see when you do the Milford Sound cruise here including waterfalls, wildlife and impressive landscape. The drive to Milford Sound is a scenic stretch of road too – with lots of great stops such as the Mirror Lakes, Eglinton Valley, Hollyford Valley, Monkey Creek, Homer Tunnel and Cleddau Valley. Before or after you embark on the cruise, you can do a short walk to a viewpoint to see Mitre Peak. The Milford Sound Cruise starts at NZD$ 55.
Check out my full post about some of the best things to do in Milford Sound.
If you are looking to embark on a truly astounding journey, you can consider doing a cruise along Doubtful Sound. We were blown away by Doubtful Sound even after we’d been to Milford Sound. It’s a photographer’s paradise with lots of areas with still water for reflection photos and a truly unique landscape unlike anywhere else we’ve been in New Zealand. You’ll also see some waterfalls and wildlife here. Note that the Doubtful Sound cruise starts from Lake Manapouri, so if you have little time to drive towards Milford Sound then you will miss some of the cools stops towards Milford and of course, Milford Sound itself. Doubtful Sound is also a longer cruise too thus the higher price tag. The Doubtful Sound Cruise starts at NZD$ 265.
If you are not renting a car, you can also join a tour for your Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound day trip which includes the bus connection from Queenstown. The Milford Sound Cruise from Queenstown (including coach connection) starts at NZD$210 and the Doubtful Sound Cruise from Queenstown (including coach connection) starts at NZD$ 285.
Cromwell, Clyde, Bannockburn and Alexandra
Central Otago’s smaller towns are great places to visit with their orchards, vineyards, and a rich gold mining history. This area is only over an hour’s driving from Queenstown. Make sure to try some locally grown fruits during summer such as apricots, peaches, berries and cherries.
Map of Things to Do in Queenstown
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Do you have plans to visit Queenstown in New Zealand? Which of these attractions in Queenstown are you most excited to visit? Let us know.